Every year we make New Year’s resolutions. When the calendar resets, we often take that as a moment to hit the reset button on our lives. There is nothing magical about the change in date, but it speaks to the deep human need to start over.
I once read about a true insomniac, someone who never slept. It was very interesting, but the part that I thought was most harrowing was that for this person, their day never ended. The sun would rise and set, but it would continue to be one long, unending day.
Before this, I had never considered what a night’s sleep, even a bad night’s sleep, gives me from day to day. When I sleep, I end that chapter of my life that I call that day. And whether it was good or bad, I get to start my day all over again.
As I wrote, we have a deep need to start over, to begin again. We sometimes feel trapped by our own history, particularly our failures. We carry with us the fruit of poor decisions, whether they are the extra pounds around our mid-section, the small numbers in our paychecks, or the fractures in our family relationships. It is especially true when it comes to our sins.
Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas point out that our moral choices are done in a vacuum, divorced from who we are. Our virtues shape our character into who we are supposed to be. But our vices warp who we are down to our core. Movies like The Godfather or TV shows like Breaking Bad do a wonderful job of showing how when good people make sinful choices, the very core of their character twists into something wicked.
The same is true about all of us. We make choices every day, some large but most small, that shape the contours of our soul. The change is so incremental that we tend not to notice it until a gulf has formed between who we are and who we were. I wake up one day to discover that I’ve lost the courage to stand up for my convictions or that I’ve closed my heart to the affections of the people in my life.
This epiphany is a gift from God, but the problem is that the deficit in our character seems so insurmountable that we are too far gone.
That is why God lets us start over.
John’s Gospel begins with the same three words that open up the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning…”
The coming of Jesus was not another link the the chain of Salvation History. He was not simply the successor to the kings and the prophets of the Old Testament. In fact the reason why we divide the Bible into Old Testament and New Testament is because Jesus’ arrival into this world is so radical. It is not the next step in the story.
The coming of Jesus is a new beginning. Redemption is Re-Creation. God is starting over.
And what is true on the macro-scale of history is true on the micro-scale of our own lives. We are called to have a new beginning.
The personal history that we try to escape from can be the fertile soil from which springs forth a vine in the vineyard of the Lord. That language may seem overly flowery and optimistic, but it is rooted in the reality of Christ’s saving power. We get to begin again.
When the Prodigal Son returns to the father, he is clothed with a robe, sandals are put on his feet, and a ring is put on his finger. In the Bible, clothing represents authority, slaves would be the ones to walk around barefoot, and the family ring would give the son access to the family fortune. Upon his return, the Prodigal Son is immediately restored to full sonship.
That is what happens to us when we return to the Lord. Christ has given us the sacraments of Baptism and Confession. Here, the entire accumulated sins of our lives are washed away and we become a New Creation. We get to start over.
In God’s eyes, the sin is no more. However, we mortals let our bad memories linger. And worse, the bad habits of vice may still be firmly rooted in our daily lives. But this doesn’t mean we cannot truly start over.
To begin again, we need to live as if we believe in the new creation God has made us. This doesn’t mean that the consequences of all of my past behavior magically vanish. If I repent of my gluttonous ways, it does not mean my body immediately becomes fit and trim. If I repent of my addiction to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography, it does not mean that I am no longer an addict. There is a brokenness that comes into the world by our sin.
But we can overcome that brokenness by living like that new creation. I may be overweight, but I can begin to live a healthier lifestyle. I may be an addict, but I can begin to live my life free of those addictions. I may need to do more work, but I have to believe that I really can start over.
We may have damaged our relationships. But if we value these people in our lives, we must have the courage to reach out and start over. Many times relationships fracture because of mutual acts of injury. Rather than waiting for the other person to apologize, do you have the humility to reach out and admit your wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness without seeking an apology in return? Can you swallow your pride enough to do that? Can you forgive others the way Christ has forgiven you?
And all of this requires a gift of time.